2013, February 19: Danny Vanzandt's Fiery Death

On February 18, 2013, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA, the neighbors of 65-year-old Danny Vanzandt saw smoke coming from his house and called the fire department, who attempted to put out a pile of burning trash in the kitchen... only to realize it was human remains. The floor under the remains was undamaged and no other objects or furniture in the house showed signs of fire damage; there was no sign of an accelerant being used, nor any indication that a struggle had taken place. Sequoyah County Sheriff Ron Lockhart, who had 20 years experience as an arson investigator, said he had never seen anything like it, and speculated if it was related to spontaneous human combustion. Vanzandt had been reduced down to just 40 pounds worth of matter by the localized fire. It was noted that Vanzandt had been a heavy drinker and smoker, and an autopsy of the remains was called for in hopes of explaining the matter.

        Weeks later, the report came back: Vanzandt had died previous to the start of the fire, as an examination of his airway showed no signs of inhaled soot, and his blood did not contain chemicals from smoke. The coroner's opinion was that Vanzandt likely died of a heart attack, and landed on a burning cigarette, which then led to his clothing catching fire and slowly consuming his body through the wick effect, in which the clothing acts in the same fashion as a wick in a candle, transporting fluid fat to the flame and only being consumed in part itself when the fluid runs out of a particular part of the body. Such a smolder will follow the clothes as long as there is body tissue to fuel it, and can reach localized temperatures high enough to destroy bone. Limbs can be left untouched, generally consumed only as far as clothing reaches them; so the bottom edge of a dress may leave an unburned foot behind. This all of course requires two main things (after a flame); time to burn slowly, and a victim who is already paralyzed or dead. In most of these cases, the victims have been drunk, drugged, or deceased before the fire started.

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